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Aeneas Fleeing Troy

Barocci Federico

(Urbino c. 1535 - 1612)

Signed and dated 1598, this painting was commissioned by Giuliano Della Rovere, who probably donated it to Cardinal Scipione Borghese, in whose collection it was first documented in 1613. This is the second version of the subject painted by Barocci, having previously executed a similar work for the Habsburg Emperor Rudolf II in Prague. Other than portraits, this is the only secular theme painted by the artist over the course of his career, which he otherwise devoted to sacred subjects. The first version, executed between 1586 and 1589, has been lost; yet from a compositional point of view it was probably quite similar to the Borghese canvas. The work in question shows resemblances to Raphael’s fresco The Fire in the Borgo in the Raphael Rooms; in addition, Bramante’s Tempietto in the courtyard of San Pietro in Montorio is represented in the background.


Object details

oil on canvas
cm 179 x 253

19th-century frame with frieze with lotus leaves and palmettes, 213 x 289.5 cm



Collection of Scipione Borghese, 1613; Inv. 1693, room I, no. 32; Inventario Fidecommissario 1833, p. 8, no. 21; purchased by Italian state, 1902.


  • 1975 Bologna, Museo Civico
  • 1980 Tokyo, The National Museum of Western Art
  • 1990 Roma, Palazzo delle Esposizioni
  • 2000 Roma, Palazzo delle Esposizioni
  • 2009-2010 Siena, Complesso Museale di Santa Maria della Scala
  • 2012-2013 Saint Louis, Saint Louis Art Museum; Londra, National Gallery
  • 2015-2016 Roma, Museo Nazionale Romano; Roma, Palazzo Altemps
Conservation and Diagnostic
  • 1951 Augusto Cecconi Principi
  • 1969 Oddo Verdinelli


This work is the second version of the only secular theme painted by Federico Barocci, who devoted his career to depicting mostly sacred scenes, with the exception of portraits. The first Aeneas Fleeing Troy, which is lost today, was destined for the court of Rudolf II in Prague; the Habsburg Emperor specifically ordered a work which was not devotional ‘but of a different taste’ (cited in Emiliani 1975, p. 151; 2008, p. 58). That work was painted sometime between 1586 and 1589; it remained in Prague until 1648, when it first entered the collection of Queen Christina of Sweden and then that of the Odescalchi family in Bracciano. Afterwards it came into the possession of Philippe II, Duke of Orléans and Regent of France. From here it found its way to England; yet at this point all traces of the work were lost (Olsen 1962, pp. 180-182).

About a decade after he painted the Prague version, Barocci executed the work in question, which he signed and dated ‘FED.BAR.URB. / FAC. MDXCVIII’. Bellori (1672, pp. 192-193) reported that it was destined for ‘Monsignor Della Rovere, and can be seen today in the Borghese Garden in Rome’.

Both Scipione Francucci’s short poem on the Borghese Collection (1613, st. 81-112) and a payment receipt for a frame made out to Alberto Duranti (cited in Della Pergola 1959, p. 217, n. 61) attest to the presence of the canvas in the collection of Cardinal Scipione, who probably received it as a gift from Giuliano della Rovere.

We cannot say for certain to what extent the two versions differed. Nonetheless, it is likely that they were substantially similar in the arrangement of the figures; if divergences were present, these probably regarded the representation of the background. This is suggested by a preparatory cartoon, held today at the Louvre, which is generally believed to refer to the first version; here the architecture is less defined than in the Borghese painting. At the same time, we do not have sufficient proof that the cartoon corresponds perfectly to the Prague painting, whose final outcome may have more closely resembled the second version, including in the background (Emiliani 2008, p. 60; on the cartoon, see Loisel 2009, pp. 343-344).

The same subject was reproduced by Agostino Carracci in an engraving dated 1595, three years before the completion of the Borghese version. The fact that the engraving and the second painting are quite similar has always piqued the interest of critics: as the dates of the two works are certain, the engraving cannot have derived from the second version of the painting, a circumstance which gives rise to two possible scenarios. The first is that Agostino’s work is a reproduction of the Prague version; yet in this case it is not clear what Carracci’s source could have been, given that the painting was sent to the Habsburg court as soon as it was completed. If, however, this is actually the case, it would prove that the two versions of the painting are essentially the same, although their respective dramatic impacts may differ slightly (Emiliani 2000, p. 265).

The second scenario, by contrast, is that Agostino may have used a detailed study of the Borghese painting, or may have had access to the canvas before it was completed (Baiardi 2009, pp. 345-46). The source of the engraving, which may have even been provided by Barocci himself, could be the monochrome retouched with oil preserved today at Windsor: in the past this work was attributed to Agostino, although today critics ascribe it to the artist from Urbino (A. Boesten-Stengel, ‘Federico Barocci oder Agostino Carracci? Die Ölgrisaille der “Flucht aus Troja” in Windsor Castle; Zuschreibung und Funktion’, in Wallraf-Richartz-Jahrbuch, LXII, 2001, pp. 223-260).

Undoubtedly the diffusion of Agostino’s print – with which, incidentally, Barocci expressed dissatisfaction – greatly abetted the fortunes of this ‘proto-Baroque’ work. A fil rouge connects our canvas to Raphael, whose Fire in the Borgo in the Vatican similarly shows Aeneas carrying Anchises on his shoulders, and to Bernini, who sculpted the same subject 20 years later for Scipione Borghese; the sculpture group is still held by the Galleria (inv. no. CLXXXII; Emiliani 1975, p. 153, and 2008, pp. 58-60).

The building visible in the background was inspired by Bramante’s Tempietto in the courtyard of San Pietro in Montorio. Barocci in fact made a preparatory study of the structure, held today at the Uffizi, yet in the guise of an ancient temple (Tosini 2009, p. 345).

Aeneas Fleeing Troy was widely praised not only for the efficiency of its compositional arrangement but also for its extraordinary chromatic qualities. The artist produced a conspicuous number of preparatory drawings for the work, most of which are held today in Berlin, Florence and Windsor (for a discussion of some of these, see Emiliani 1975, pp. 150-151; Bohn 2012, pp. 272-280).

The face of Anchises, of which a study is preserved today in Windsor Castle, is based on a type that appears in other works by Barocci, such as the Saint Jerome in the Borghese Collection (inv. no. 403; Emiliani 1975, p. 153, and 2008, p. 60).

Pier Ludovico Puddu

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